CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Ask almost any driver in the NASCAR garage today to name some of the racers they wanted to emulate coming up through the racing circuit, and it doesn’t take long for this Roush racer to come up: Mark Martin.
Known now for his encyclopedic memory of the setups his teams ran as far back as the early 80s and his affinity for rap music and lifting heavy weights, Martin built a NASCAR career on winning races (96 of them in the top three NASCAR national series), on being completely in tune with his car and for managing his tires in such a way that his late-race charges to the front of the field became the stuff of legend.
Ask almost any driver in the NASCAR garage today to name some of the racers they most wanted to emulate when it came to earning the respect of their peers, and it doesn’t take long for this Roush racer to come up: Jeff Burton.
RELATED: Check out Mark, Mamba & The Mayor
Now an analyst for NBC Sports, Burton built his career with plenty of on-track success, but also on having the reputation for being one of the most trusted and honest racers in the garage. In an era where drivers policed themselves among the garage (1990s specifically), Burton earned one of the most famous nicknames ever in NASCAR — The Mayor.
These two NASCAR legends and former Roush teammates are teaming up again. Martin and Burton, along with host Mamba Smith, are launching a podcast on the NASCAR Digital network — Mark, Mamba & The Mayor. Listen to a snippet of the first episode below.
The biweekly podcast will feature these racers swapping stories of their time at NASCAR’s top level in the 1990s, sharing previously unheard stories from their time behind the wheel and in the garage. Smith, who also appears weekly on Backseat Drivers on NASCAR’s YouTube channel, will provide his perspective and help connect NASCAR’s past with its present and future.
“We all are well aware of how much thirst and demand there is for the 90s era,” Burton said. “There seems to be a really large demand from the fans for that. Our vision for this podcast is to couple current events and current racing with our stories, and connect the past with things that are going on today.”
Martin and Burton were teammates driving for Jack Roush from 1996 into the 2004 season. Their friendship took root during that period, and they’ve stayed in touch since then. Martin said Burton is really the only driver from his era he stays in touch with to this day.
“I would have to say without Jeff Burton, I probably wouldn’t want to have done this. Jeff and I have always had tremendous chemistry. He was the best teammate a veteran could have ever asked for and he is a lot smarter than I am,” Martin said with a laugh. “He’s in the broadcasting world. With all those factors I figured being his wingman or having him for a wingman would make it perfect.”
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The host Smith started racing when he was 4 years old, going from go-karts to the Allison Legacy Series to late models by the time he was 16.
After hanging up his helmet at age 18, Smith stayed in the sport by constantly reinventing himself. He sports a NASCAR Cup Series championship ring, earned in 2014 as a teardown mechanic at Stewart-Haas Racing in the year Kevin Harvick won the first championship in the elimination-style NASCAR Playoffs.
He previously had earned a K&N Pro Series East title (now ARCA Menards Series East) working for Kyle Larson’s team as an interior mechanic. Two more titles followed when Smith transitioned to a communications role, in 2017 with Harrison Burton (Jeff’s son) in the East Series and then in 2018 in the ARCA Menards Series with Sheldon Creed.
“It’s really just great chemistry between Mamba, Jeff and I,” Martin said. “Jeff and I both tell stories of things most fans probably don’t know about or don’t even remember, and that’s really fun. But it’s more than that. It’s not really about us, it’s about the history of the sport and some of the heroes that paved the way for me and Jeff, and the guys that are currently out there on the race track now. So we are able to blend all that together and pay tribute to some of the greats that came before us.”
One thing that made Martin and Burton incredible teammates — besides their natural ability to drive a race car — was their honesty. Add in mutual respect to that, too.
Burton calls Martin the most honest person he knows. It’s what drew Burton to Martin in the garage back in the early 90s, when The Mayor was trying to find his path in NASCAR’s top series.
“Even before I knew him, he was a mentor to me,” Burton said. “I was paying attention to him long before he knew who I was. When I started Xfinity racing, he was a Cup guy and I could go ask a question and Mark would shoot me straight. His work ethic, his desire, his care, I got to really see that behind the scenes. You get to know people when things are hard. He is a straight-up good guy. If I ever need something, a piece of advice, he may not tell me what I want to hear, but he will tell me the truth.”
Telling the truth will be the hallmark of Mark, Mamba and The Mayor. Telling stories will be, too.
“Maybe this is naïve, but I feel like part of my role is to leave the sport better than I found it,” Burton said. “Because Bobby Allison did that for me, and somebody did it for him. I love the sport. I go to the race track every weekend. I just think that all of us could do more to move the ball to make things better.
We all kind of have the same goals. If we all work together, we can make things better. That’s just the way I feel about it. There was a time in my life I thought I wanted to run for office. I wanted to serve my community. NASCAR is my community. And I want to serve it as best I can.”